Findus shows how to back the wrong horse in a crisis

Findus shows how to back the wrong horse in a crisis

There is a terminology that Public Relations companies use called crisis management PR.

You probably already know what it is, but just in case you don’t it’s a short way of saying how do you deal with the media when there’s a negative story circulating about you.

The good and the bad of it has been highlighted in recent weeks by the furore surrounding the horse meat scandal.

Good was the way Tesco reacted quickly to horse meat being found in some of their beef produce. They knew there was nothing much they could do other than apologise, and set about using the media to do this.

They explained they were mortified by this lapse and would do all they could for their customers to prevent a repeat. Using national media, such as the broadsheet papers, it’s clear that this damage limitation exercise was nipped in the bud as early as possible.

Will it work? In all probability it will. There will be a small percentage of people who think the big supermarkets shouldn’t be visited again, but people are fickle and most of these will be back soon enough. Aside of  a bloody-minded micro-minority it is probable that this scandal won’t do Tesco much harm.

However, on the other hand, Findus have committed a huge own goal. They have been very much in the eye of the storm, much more so than Tesco, with horse meat in their beef lasagne.

The frozen food giant sacked their UK PR team last year as a cost-cutting measure. As a result, following the news breakout the initial silence was deafening.

Without experts they were a sitting duck for the media.

By the time they held their hands up they had generated enough bad will which will ensure at the very minimum a sizeable dent in their profits.

What all businesses can learn from this is when you are on the wrong end of the news it is imperative to stand up and face the music asap. The message, even if it is a lengthy apology, has to be clear.

The public, on the whole, are a decent crowd who forgive wrongdoing if it was a genuine mistake.

Also, there is no point hiding it with a ‘no comment’ if there is bad news on the agenda. That line just doesn’t work anymore. I told that once to a chief exec about to sack a workforce of 200.

He was castigated for a week in the local press before he announced the job losses that we already had hard evidence of. His life was made hell for some time afterwards.

I hope whatever your business you don’t have negative publicity, but if you do don’t hide. It could be the worst thing you ever do